UW System president proposes 5% tuition increase

By Henry Redman

University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman has proposed a 5% increase in tuition for in-state students, potentially raising the cost of public higher education in the state for the first time since lawmakers instituted a freeze on tuition more than a decade ago. 

Rothman will ask the UW System Board of Regents to approve the increase at a meeting later this month. 

Speaking to the state Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee Thursday, Rothman said the increase was needed for “the long term financial viability of our universities and to sustain the quality of education.” The increase would generate about $38 million per year. 

“This modest tuition increase will help our universities continue to provide students with a world-class education, produce the talent that Wisconsin’s workforce needs to succeed and spark innovation and vitality in our communities,” Rothman said. 

Republican lawmakers instituted the tuition freeze during the 2013-15 budget negotiations after a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed the system had nearly $650 million in reserve funds, largely from unspent tuition money. The freeze was lifted in 2021, returning the power to set tuition back to the regents. 

In-state tuition at the state’s public universities ranges from about $4,750 annually at the two-year schools to $9,725 at UW-Madison, the state’s flagship university. Those figures don’t include the added costs of fees and items such as room and board. 

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $2.6 billion in state funding for the system in his 2023-25 budget plan, about $130 million less than the system had requested. 

At the hearing Thursday, lawmakers appeared skeptical of the tuition increase. 

Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville), the committee’s chair, has introduced a bill that would cap system tuition increases at the rate of inflation. At the committee hearing he said he had not anticipated that a 5% increase would be less than the current inflation rate. 

“I didn’t really anticipate that the 5% was going to be under the rate of inflation,” Murphy said. “I didn’t realize that the current administration was going to have policies that were going to inflate the currency that dramatically.”

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) said students attend UW-Stevens Point, which is within her district, because of its affordability and questioned what will happen if the system has to rely on tuition money, rather than state money, to fund its operations. 

“What will that look like if tuition is the only new revenue source?” Shankland asked.

The Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for March 30 and 31 at UW-Stout.